I don’t think I’ve seen a sadder moment in recent memory than when I witnessed three solemn faces–those of my wife and two children–last Monday morning as they headed back to school.
My wife (a teacher in Dekalb County) and children cherished the days off during the big snow storm last week. Returning was a necessary part of work and education for all three, but they would have rather participated in just one more snowball fight.
The storm was fun for this family, but it was not all fun and games for so many other fellow Atlantans who had to endure hours in cars and the cold, only to have their elected officials make excuses as to why the city was not better prepared to handle the elements, traffic, and response.
When my wife went to work that Tuesday morning, we wondered why city officials and superintendents insisted on seeing the first snowflake fall before having to cancel school. It didn’t make sense to us, and I hope that our officials learned the lesson: be prepared!
The Reverend Quincy Barnwell, pastor of Grace Christian Church (his church meets in Trinity’s building at 8 AM on Sunday mornings), reminded his congregation last weekend that we Christians are called to be prepared too.
Except, in our case, we are to be prepared for Jesus’ Second Coming. This is a command from the Lord.
In Matthew 24 Jesus foretold his return to reclaim the earth as God’s own and judge all creation accordingly.
Jesus said two important things about that occasion. First, no one but God knows the “day and hour” of Jesus’ return (v. 37).
Second, Jesus’ return will be like the coming of a thief in the night. We are called not to slumber or be distracted, but to be alert, awake, and prepared (vv. 38-50).
When Jesus returns, then, we Christians will not have the privilege of saying that we were not prepared. We cannot wait for the first snowflake to fall in order to hear God’s call, repent of our sins, and live a life of holiness with God.
What is interesting is that Jesus tells us that being prepared for his return means more than merely being in a certain state of mind. He also asks us to stay awake regarding the needs of others.
Jesus’ warnings in Matthew 24 leads into Jesus’ ethical commands to feed the poor, clothe the naked, visit the sick and the captive, and welcome the stranger in Matthew 25:31-46.
The way we stay alert is to remain in a sort of constant motion to fulfill these needs.
It is easy to fall asleep in our obligations to our neighbors. We are distracted by the many things that surround us, beautiful things like cars and computers and fancy wardrobes and ostentatious homes (for me, its books…I get distracted by reading too many books!).
These distractions start to pull us away from the Lord, and we end up working day in and day out in order to afford more things that only distract us further.
No wonder Jesus likens his return to being like a thief in the night. When Jesus comes, he will steal away all those things we’ve lusted after only to leave us naked and vulnerable.
Only then, when he shows us for who we really are, will Jesus ask: What have you done with your life apart from hoarding, collecting, and consuming things?
As a Baptist, I know this question comes awful close to the idea that we might be “saved” by our works as much as by our faith, but that’s not the case.
In Scripture, faith is a catalyst for works. Works is the evidence that Christ has made a difference in our life, a difference that others can see and experience for themselves. Jesus continues to call us even today to “stay awake!” in both our faith and our works.